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Constantine Maroulis Goes Mean and Green in Alley Theatre's Comic Book Musical Toxic Avenger

Former American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis has turned into one of Broadway's favorite leading men. It was announced in January that he'll star as both title roles in the New York revival of Frank Wildhorn's musical Jekyll & Hyde in 2013. Maroulis was a Tony nominee a few years ago as the lead in Rock of Ages, which came here to the Winspear on its national tour last spring.

You can see Maroulis and hear his piercing rock-and-roll high notes right now, just a three-and-a-half-hour drive away at Houston's Alley Theatre, where he's playing the title role in the dandy production of the rock musical Toxic Avenger. Expanded and rewritten since its off-Broadway run in 2009, the show is now bigger, louder and funnier, thanks to a pop-culture-skewing script by Joe DiPietro and a fat score by David Bryan (of Bon Jovi fame) that blends rock, musical theater showpieces and, just for grins, a saucy tango.

Maroulis, a remarkably charming stage actor, starts the show in the guise of Melvin Ferd the Third, a nearsighted college student with a huge crush on the town librarian (played by Mara Davi) in Tromaville, New Jersey. She's gorgeous - and blind. When some bullies toss Melvin into a vat of toxic sludge, he emerges bulging with muscles and a coat of green slime, but imbued with heaps of self esteem. As the ugly super-hero, "Toxie" sets out to expose corruption in the mayor's office (she's selling city land to chemical dumpers) and to win the love of the librarian.

More about the show and a look at Maroulis before and after he turns toxic after the jump.

The cast has just five actors, but three play multiple roles. Nancy Opel, playing the harridan mayor and Melvin's housedress-wearing mother, gives a crazy-hilarious performance in both parts. In the second act, she duets with herself, darting in and out of costumes and wigs in the blink of an eye.

The big-budget show is all silly fun, full of jabs at Glee, Starbucks and Michele Bachmann, plus rabbit punches at corporate polluters and evil politicians.

In tone and style, Toxic Avenger stacks up favorably against other musicals spun off from B-flicks. You can hear a little Rocky Horror influence in a few numbers. The blood-spewing gore and vines winding around the set by Beowulf Borrit will remind you of Little Shop of Horrors.

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Director John Rando won a Tony for Urinetown the Musical and there are hints of that, too, in Toxic's winky self-awareness. Rando's been with this show since its inception three years ago and now will take it from the Alley to the Great White Way.

If you stay the night in Houston when you see Toxic Avenger, gas, hotel and a ticket to the show at the Alley will still be cheaper than a Broadway theater seat. So go ahead and go. It's in-Toxie-cating!

Toxic Avenger continues through February 12 at the Alley Theatre, Houston. Call 713-220-5700.

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